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Environment & Energy Report

California to Ban Pesticide Chlorpyrifos (1)

May 8, 2019, 7:21 PMUpdated: May 8, 2019, 8:45 PM

California, the nation’s largest and most-productive agricultural state, announced plans May 8 to ban the widely used pesticide chlorpyrifos.

The neurotoxic insecticide is used on crops statewide ranging from citrus and nuts to wheat and other grains. Several recent studies have linked use of the chemical to brain development problems in children.

“California’s action to cancel the registration of chlorpyrifos is needed to prevent the significant harm this pesticide causes children, farm workers and vulnerable communities,” said Jared Blumenfeld, secretary of California’s Environmental Protection Agency.

California will join Hawaii, which became the first state to ban the pesticide starting this year. New York lawmakers last month sent the governor a bill that would ban the pesticide effective at the end of 2021.

California Department of Pesticide Regulation spokeswoman Charlotte Fadipe told Bloomberg Environment the state is looking at a two-year time frame to “consult with county agricultural commissioners and local air pollution control districts before filing for cancellation” of the chlorpyrifos registration.

Industry Digs In

Globally, several companies make chlorpyrifos products. In the U.S., the most recognized brand names are Lorsban and Dursban, manufactured by Corteva Agriscience, the agricultural division of DowDuPont.

In a statement, Corteva said it will continue to support the growers who need chlorpyrifos, which the company says is a critical tool necessary to control a wide number of pests.

“Labeled uses of chlorpyrifos rest on five decades of experience in use, health surveillance of manufacturing workers and applicators, and more than 4,000 studies and reports examining the product in terms of health, safety and the environment,” said Gregg Schmidt, a spokesman for Corteva.

Chlorpyrifos is currently registered in roughly 100 countries, including the U.S, and European Union.

“Policy should be driven by sound science and data and follow a predictable and transparent regulatory review process,” Schmidt said.

More recently, researchers have highlighted conflicting results from industry-funded toxicity studies used during previous regulatory reviews.

Restrictive Guidelines

In April, chlorpyrifos was formally listed as a “toxic air contaminant,” which California law defines as “an air pollutant which may cause or contribute to an increase in mortality or an increase in serious illness, or which may pose a present or potential hazard to human health.”

The listing requires the pesticide agency to develop control measures to protect the health of farm workers and others living and working near where the pesticide is used.

The Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) has already issued a series of recommended guidelines while it weighs long-term regulations.

The department calls for banning its use in crop dusting, discontinuing application on most crops, increasing buffer zones, and limiting applications to “critical uses” on crops for which there are few if any alternative pesticides

Focus on Bans

Earlier this year, Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.), reintroduced legislation (S. 921) on March 28 to ban chlorpyrifos nationally. In a May 8 statement, Udall said states will bear more responsibility to protect their citizens from toxic chemicals.

“In the absence of action from the Trump EPA, I applaud states like California, Hawaii and New York for stepping up to the plate to protect children, farmworkers, families and wildlife from this toxic nerve agent,” Udall said.

Udall, and environmental groups have been highly critical of the Trump administration’s move to reverse a previous decision by the EPA, under President Barack Obama, that would have phased out chlorpyrifos nationwide.

Following that decision, a coalition of environmental groups and farmworkers challenged that decision in court. On April 19, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit gave the agency 90 days to decide whether further restrictions or bans on chlorpyrifos are necessary at this point.

“Certainly, responding to the court on chlorpyrifos is front and center right now,” said Alexandra Dapolito Dunn, EPA’s assistant administrator for chemical safety and pollution prevention.

Despite the court order, Dunn told Bloomberg Environment May 6 that EPA still has statutory leeway until October 2022 to review updated science on chlorpyrifos.

Because of the long time frames in play, environmental groups say they’re going keep the pressure on states to do more.

“We’ve seen many a regulatory process founder on the rocks. Our concern is that we’ll spend the next several years forcing DPR to finish the process,” said Greg Loarie, an attorney with Earthjustice, a San Francisco-based nonprofit dedicated to litigating environmental issues.

To contact the reporter on this story: Adam Allington in Washington at aallington@bloombergenvironment.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Gregory Henderson at ghenderson@bloombergenvironment.com; Steven Gibb at sgibb@bloombergenvironment.com; Chuck McCutcheon at cmccutcheon@bloombergenvironment.com